Month: July 2015

Bittersweet: Writing Home

candles

Dearest Anyatka,

We arrived safely in Dol Amroth a few days ago. Imloth Melui was a success, though rather grim the whole while we were there. Being in the city, I find it is just as bright as when we were here earlier in the year.

While I have not heard specifically what we are to do here, I believe it has to do with the growing discontent among the citizens, and a sudden growth in numbers of unscrupulous sorts. We will be safe, of course, so try not to worry too much. So far the days have been good, and lighthearted.

I wish I had more to write about, but all I can think of at the moment is the swimming spot I found, the few trees that offer an escape from the gleaming stone towers, and the good ale that was shared tonight. You have my word that I will keep you updated on our comings and goings.

Give Abiorn my love. If you could leave a loaf of bread on the porch of my house once a week I would be grateful. Poor Henry was upset with me enough for having moved. Take care of yourself, dear oselle, and be safe.

All my love,

Eruviel

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dear Abiorn,

As Anya might have told you, our company has made it safely to Dol Amroth. We had a bit of excitement in Imloth Melui, part of which was a massive explosion Feygil accidentally caused that flattened an enemy camp (and knocked us flat on our asses as well).

The past few days being here have not been terribly exciting, though. You would like the ale here. Well, I think you would like a lot of things here. The people in the city have been very welcoming to me (though I suspect a part of it has to do with me being an Elf). Eirikr has spent much of his time out in the trees (as to be expected). I myself have found a wonderful cliff jutting out over the sea several miles up the coast that offers a clean dive out into the water. If Anya asks, it’s a rock, but it’s actually only about seventy feet high.

I am sure we will run into more intrigue and trouble as the days roll past. Take care of yourself, gwador, and take care of Anya. If you see Moon Moon at all, tell him we made it safely, and that I say hello.

Till next time,

Love, Eruviel

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Wrapped in a soft, summer robe, and her wet hair coiled up in a towel that sat upon her head, Eruviel folded the last letter. Waiting a minute for the wax to melt, she carefully sealed the first message, and then the second. The last of her company had returned safely from the tavern, and, too awake to rest, she’d set into the writing she should have done days before.

Sitting on the floor in her empty room on a mound of pillows, she leaned both elbows on the low table that was once again covered with maps. She hadn’t had that much fun drinking in a long time. And, thanks to Tolan, she knew to keep well away from the bards dressed in pink.

Shaking her head, Eruviel tried to refocus on the maps before her. She hadn’t had all that much to drink, but her cheeks were still warm. Her mind drifted, and the edge of the region turned into the strong bend of his arm. The southern district of Tharbad slowly transformed into a trim, red beard, and the sketch of Nin-in-Eilph suddenly became limpid, dark grey eyes….

Letting out a despairing groan, Eruviel leaned her toweled head back. She didn’t mind him drunk; not at all, really, but she had had no clue that Atanamir, or anyone for that matter, had thought anything of them. A part of her didn’t care, but right then, for some silly reason, her head still swimming with him and half a dozen off-colored responses, she did. I must escort my lady to bed! Hugging a large pillow, Eruviel flopped over, as much as an Elf might, to lay on the floor. The flush in her cheeks turning a darker shade of pink, and she prayed that Tolan and Atanamir had been too drunk, and too enthralled by their conversation about pineapples to have overheard.

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Innocent Heart: Get Free

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The street leading down to the Warf nearly overflowed with a river of people. Before Torrin could find out where she was going and stop her, Feira, with no work left for the day, slipped out of the estate. Coppers in her pocket, she had purchased the small basket, and filled it with five of the nicest oranges she could find. Who knows but if he’d have to share? Purchasing a small bag of cherries for herself, she added one of the plump, red fruits atop the already filled basket, hoping he’d get the joke, before hurrying on her way.

She had to tell him! It wasn’t really actual news, but oh, the opportunity! While part of her did enjoy cleaning, the thought of actually working with people filled her with excitement. And the prospect of a promotion was good enough reason for her to drop by the docks and say ‘hello’, right?

Weaving easily through the crowds, Feira felt like a silly little girl. Only a short distance from the docks, and she felt rediculously giddy. The last turn was hardly two merchant stalls away when a hand suddenly grabbed her by the arm and, before she could cry out, drug her off to the side. Able to keep her basket of fruit from upsetting, she froze when she found herself with her back to a dead-end alley, and her path of escape blocked by Aunt Raewiel.

“There you are, you ungrateful whelp,” growled the woman, as towering and fat as ever. Raewiel set her balled-up hands on her hips, a stance the girl knew all too well. “I was wondering when I would run into you.”

Swallowing hard, it took everything in Feira to not cower back as her angry Aunt took a step closer. “I apologize, Miss Raewiel, if I got in your path. Please, do not let me not keep you from your day.” With that she ducked to the right in attempt to step past her, but Raewiel caught her, and shoved her hard against the stone wall.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” Raewiel sneered, glaring down at her. “Do you realize just how much trouble you have cost your father and I? And after everything we have done for you over the years!”

“I-I’ve been needing t-to find you, a-and discuss that with you, as a-a matter of fact.”

“Oh, you have, have you? Little whore, hiding behind your big brother. Ever since he moved you out, and made me quit the estate, it’s been hell finding good work!”

Suddenly grateful for the support of the wall behind her, Feira caught the breath that had been knocked out of her. Forcing her knees to hold steady, the girl lifted her chin in defiance. “I assure you, madam,” she responded coolly, “that any misfortune that has found you has been entirely of your own doing.”

Raewiel sucked in a hissing breath, drawing up like a snake preparing to strike. “Just as smart-mouthed as your mother. She got what she deserved, and I hope you meet the same end!”

Time suddenly seemed to slow, and Raewiel’s hand that swung towards Feira’s face froze in place. Raewiel had always blamed her for her mother’s death, but this time, it struck a new chord. No one deserved an end like her mother’s. It was a terrible thing to say. But, to be compared to her . . . . A hint of pride sparked inside of Feira, and something clicked.  You can do the same thing, sweet. Get free of her. . . . Time lurched back into motion. Slapping Raewiel’s hand away with surprising force, Feira seemed to grow a few inches as she stepped up to stand toe-to-toe with her much taller relative.

“Again, Miss Raewiel, I apologize for taking up so much of your time. I hope you have a pleasant day, and do send my regards to your brother.”

Raewiel blinked down at her, shocked by the daring look in the girl’s eyes. “What?  . . . are you challenging me?”

“No,” responded Feira with a firm, almost authoritative air. “I have no reason to. I am not like you, madam. You cannot do anything to me, nor can you make me care about anything you have to say.”

The older woman completely flabbergasted, Feira did not give her a chance to speak. She didn’t know where it was all coming from, but she couldn’t stop now.

“Seeing now that that is how things are, you have no further business with me. I would appreciate it if you never spoke to me again. I suggest that you take your leave now before you waste any more of your precious time.”

Huffing out a breath, Raewiel deflated as she stared down at Feira. A long silence passed between them, but the woman finally stepped back, and spun around to march away with whatever dignity she had left.

Turning her amber gaze down to the untouched basket, Feira took a second to process what had just happened. She wasn’t sure if she felt sick, or relieved . . . maybe it was a bit of both.

Quickly wiping away the moisture that sprang into her eyes, she moved back out to the street. Seemingly lost for a moment, a though came to her, and she headed off with new purpose. Finding an errand boy, she paid him the last coin in her pocket (which, to the young boy’s delight, was a silver), jotted down a note, and handed it to him, along with the basket.

“Take this to the docks; to the H.M.S. Turanwar.”

“Yes, miss! Who for?”

“Ask for ‘Gig’. When you find him, make sure he answers to ‘Lhainan’.”

Nodding fervently, the lad hurried off down to the docks, and Feira turned to go. She wasn’t sure where, but it would probably be somewhere she didn’t have to stand, as she still feared she might topple over. Somewhere with a good view, a good book, and a snack as a reward for her gumption.

Tombs

Brushing off the last of the dried leaves, Eruviel’s pale hand lingered on the cold stone. “They are all here?”

Standing several yards behind her, Peldirion nodded. “Most of them. There were a few that were never found, and a few who’s bodies were asked for by their families. Everyone listed there is here, though.”

Her fingers slowly traced the smooth curve of the lettering. With honor we place this stone in remembrance of those who gave their lives in defense of Gondor. Heavy-hearted, we lay to rest those of the Dreadward Tribunal who are listed below. Adrovorn Calaer of Pelargir, Mirthrost of Minas Tirith, Rhuniki of Ered Luin . . . . And so the list continued.

“Mother refused to let them put down ‘Aranduin’.”

Eruviel’s mouth curved up with a small, sad smile. “He never wanted to be buried under a rock.”

Peldirion chuffed out an amused breath. “I assume he would have preferred something grand that included fire.”

Wiping at her eyes, Eruviel nodded. “He wouldn’t care now, though.”

A silence settled in, and Eruviel traced her fingers over his name again. “Thank you. Thank you for letting me come back,” she whispered as more tears came.

“Hmm?”

“Nothing. I am just mumbling,” she said in a more audible tone. It was the last piece. It’s been about a year since we last spoke. You were right, you know. Though, you usually were. I would have missed so much if I had stayed . . . .

More silence passed. “He spoke well of you.”

Rising to her feet, Eruviel took a deep breath. Her hand falling away from the stone, she pulled his halberd out of it’s resting place in the polished foundation. “I’d hope he would have,” she responded with a soft chuckle.

His brows furrowed, Peldirion gave her a confused look. “What are you doing?”

Approaching the young captain, Eruviel set the spiked end in the ground before him. “Take it.”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I cannot wield my brother’s weapon.”

“Pellion.”

The stern man stood a little straighter as the Elf’s voice grew uncommonly serious. “As his widow, I am giving this to you. You have his ring, now take his weapon. Adrovorn hated waste. If you cannot wield it, find someone worthy of it.”

He seemed suddenly unsure in her presence as her unblinking gaze fixed on him. Taking a deep breath, he finally accepted the halberd. “It’s heavy.”

A small smile sparked back to life at the corners of her mouth. “It’s the weight of responsibility.”

A light chuckle escaped him. “Hell, you sound like him.”

“Like-minds,” she added with a kind smile. Then she smelled it . . . felt it . . . . Putting her hand on Peldirion’s arm, Eruviel looked around.

Peldirion tensed, and followed her gaze. “What is it?”

“Smoke.” Eruviel pointed to where fresh wisps of smoke rose in the distance.

Giving a displeased grunt, Peldirion marched over to his horse and stepped up into the saddle. “The carravan. We need to go.”

Already in motion, Eruviel gave the grave one last, fond smile before hopping up onto her own horse. “I’m not fully recovered yet, or I’d suggest we check it out ourselves.”

Nodding curtly, Peldirion wheeled his steed around. “Then to Arnach. We will see if they have news before we get your friends. I’d like to see if they are as good in a fight as you say.”

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

“You’re late.”

“I am early. You merely needed me sooner, sir.”

Turning a corner, Peldirion led Halethon down a long corridor. “Mind being my orderly till the end of the week?”

“You’re demoting me?”

The men exchanged amused glances, and descended down a dimly lit stair. “Think of it as a vacation.”

Halethon snorted. “Thanks a lot. The men won’t say it, but they miss you on the field.”

Peldirion grunted. “Then I won’t say that it’s good to be missed.”

“You leave, and they suddenly realize how much easier everything was with you keeping it a well-oiled machine.”

Motioning to another set of stairs, Peldirion clasped his hands behind his back. “They should remain a well-oiled machine with me gone.”

“Oh, they do,” said Halethon grimly, “but it’s rough when your temporary replacement wants to make it into his own, less efficient machine.”

“That should make things much smoother when I return.”

“Will you, sir?” asked Halethon as if the prospect had weighed upon him.

“I will perish if I am kept in this tomb much longer.”

“It is such a lovely tomb, though.” Halethon smirked as Peldirion shot him an unamused glance. “Speaking of tombs, this place might as well be one. This the dungeon?”

Peldirion nodded. “He’s just up here.”

The main dungeon lined with cells was a dim space, lit only by lanterns on the center posts. It was clean, though. Cleaner even than it had been before Peldirion’s arrival.

“You mean to postpone the trial, then?” asked Halethon quietly.

“I do,” said Peldirion with a curt nod. “With the reinforcements only four days away, that means Laergultor, much to his delight, actually, will be tried by his countrymen. It also means I don’t have to put up with another inquisition by the Wayfarers.”

A chuckle from Halethon echoed down the hall. “What, you don’t like them, sir?”

“I like some of them. The Rohir, and the Dalish man in particular. I would make them officer’s in a heartbeat if they were in our army. I thank the Valar some of the others aren’t soldiers. I don’t have time for troops that can’t take orders. It’s a wonder more of them haven’t died.”

Halethon’s retort was cut short when Peldirion turned to stand before a particular cell. “So, this is the corsair.” Nodding to the furious-looking man, Halethon greeted him in his own tongue. He had not yet finished the greeting when the corsair lept to his feet and began shouting. “He . . . says you are men of dishonor. He was promised his freedom in exchange for information.”

Peldirion smirked, and stepped closer to the bars. “Tell him he will get his freedom.”

“Sir?”

“Tell him.”

Halethon motioned to the corsair, and the two exchanged a few short words. “He wonders why he should believe you now.”

“Tell him I never gave my word to free him to begin with. I am offering him a new deal.”

Halethon arched a brow, and relayed the message to the Haradrim. The prisoner seemed surprised, but still distrustful. “He wants to know the deal first, before he says anything.”

“Tell him I want him to stand trial,” Peldirion said, looking the corsair in the eyes, “as a witness against the old man, Laergultor. I want him to tell what he told us earlier on the road, and anything else he man know about the unfortunate situation.”

Nodding, Halethon spoke to the corsair for a moment, and exchanged a short conversation. Frowning, the prisoner’s shoulder’s relaxed, and he nodded, looking right back at Peldirion. “He says you surprise him. Did you intend for this by bringing him here?”

“Yes.”

“He says ‘yes. If you will give him his freedom, he will stand as witness.”

“There is more, though. Once freed, he will not rejoin his countrymen in the fight. He will be given enough provisions to get him as far south as the first Haradic city. Tell him that if I ever see him again, his life is forfeit.”

Looking back to the corsair, Halethon once again translated. The Hardrim smirked, and offered Peldirion a slight bow. “He said he looks forward to not disappointing you.”

Lotus: Property

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A strange weight fell from her shoulders as Inaris stepped onto the small, concealed property. She was glad she didn’t stay at the Mantle when she didn’t need to. She was glad she didn’t need to tonight.

Stretching her arms up over her head for a moment, Inaris began unlacing the front of her bodice as she walked up the path towards her small cottage. Summer had seen her lawn grow wild, but it had a certain charm to it. Yes, it felt more like a meadow than an unkempt yard. To be honest, the yard was very well kept. No stray limbs lay tangled in the grass, and no stray stones waited for their chance to assault a bare foot.

By the Valar, she was proud of her little piece of the world. Something pure and perfect that no one could touch. Well, two others could touch it, but one would never come, and the other was too kind of a soul to harm anything. The clean, thatched roof gleamed in the moonlight, the remaining stack of floorboards sat neatly behind the house, and her small pond flourished with waterlily’s that perfumed the air. Everything had it’s place, and it was her’s.

The near street lamp’s light not strong enough to make it past the full apple tree that grew near the edge of her fence, Inaris smiled as the only other light shone from above. Leaving her dress and slippers on the front stoop, she padded over to the pond, and stepped in to join the dozens of white and pink blossoms. It was just big enough for her to lay down in, and a short laughed escaped her. If this was what her channeled anger produced, perhaps she’d have to get angry more often.

While she loved hot, dry weather, Inaris relished the cold water as it swirled around her warm skin. Laying her head back to rest on a smooth stone, she let out a sigh. Cold. It reminded her of who was back at the Mantle. Frowning, she shifted her slender legs around the stems of the flowers. It could not be helped. It was confusing, but then again, it wasn’t. She had been going to teasingly call him a ‘Prince’ before everything happened. And suddenly he was. There were a lot of ‘was’s’, and now there weren’t. Perhaps someday she’d understand, and thank him, but in the end she didn’t think it mattered.

Inaris.”

She tasted the word as it slipped out from between her lips. The word and her whispered tone made her think of a cool summer breeze leaving the Sea at dawn to caress chiffon curtains hanging over wide, arched windows. It felt better to say now than it had even a few months ago. She used to love her name. She missed it, and she was learning to love it again. It wasn’t the nickname of a barmaid and lady of the night, or an oddly fitting nickname like ‘Jade’. What was it she had told the man named ‘Drew’?

Yes, it’s a rock. Not precious enough to be valuable, but pretty enough to be put to use. 

Maybe she’d tell Dorsett her name. Somehow the fairly pleasant man had gleaned information she’d not spoken of in two years. Inaris laughed again. He probably had no idea. Yes, if she were to tell anyone, it would be Dorsett. It would be nice for someone to know.

Looking up to the starry sky for a moment, Inaris closed her eyes. They wouldn’t find her here. Thousands of miles from the border of Rhûn, she still feared the day a Keeper and her dear Wainrider would walk up the road, but there was no way missing property would bring them so far. But they didn’t own her anymore. They would ask for ‘Inaris’, and a young woman with long, ice-blonde hair, and they wouldn’t find her.

Sliding a bit further down into the water, Inaris let the smell of men, and heat of the Mantle wash off of her. No pretending to be somebody’s someone; no pretending to care, or not care (which was often no pretense), nor need to change faces for each customer who wanted something.

The trees wrapped protective arms over the property, then followed the tall grass. Then came the stone, and the flowers, and finally the water that gently served as a sanctuary from the game of her daily life. Reigning in her thoughts from men and haunted houses, Inaris dozed off, keeping her mind to places she’d not yet gone, and on the small, concealed property that was her escape.

Bittersweet: Drink of Water

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While death itself she knew, the Elf thought she might finally understand why sick men groaned, wishing to be put out of their misery. She had honestly considered groaning or complaining, but how pointless it would be. It was frustrating enough that small sounds of discomfort escaped her more than once when the healers had moved her from her cot to the large closet where a single bed had been set up.

Eruviel had wanted to protest. Others could have used the privacy more. She would recover. Others wouldn’t. But, her wishes remained unheard as a few elderly women bathed her, filled her full of fluids and herbs, and laid her in the soft bed.

She had heard the distant conversation. The dark, long-haired Wayfarer had most likely discovered the culprit of the sickness. No more news came. She had thought she had heard far off voices of the others, but the longer she forced herself to remain attentive, the more warped and confusing everything became. Could not someone tell her how they were doing? How he was doing?

Peldirion had visited. Having woken from a visionless, meditative rest, Eruviel opened her eyes for the first time that day. The remorseful frown on the Gondorian’s face made her wonder just how bad off she was. She only felt achy, weak, and nauseous with the occasional bout of vertigo and mild hallucinations. . . . It was nothing, really. Eruviel had given him his brother’s ring, and managed a weak attempt at making light of things. The man had almost smiled. Lightly ordering her to rest, and recover after making short conversation, Peldirion had left, and she laid there, bound to the bed only by the soft blanket and weakness of her body.

All because she had taken a drink of water. Her eyes too heavy to open, Eruviel attempted to neither move nor speak as a healer fixed the Elf’s blanket, and fed her more herbs and some horrid medicinal tea. She did not groan or complain. Only hot tears escaped out of the corners of her eyes as the feelings of uselessness and helplessness began to set in.

Bittersweet: Buisness Letters

Pouring herself a glass of cold wine and snuffing out the few candles, the Elf silently padded into the mess that was her bedroom. It would take time, adjusting to a house less than half the size of her last. While it was all the same furniture (except for her massive map table that she loathed leaving behind), the new house felt homier. The need for space in areas gave Eruviel the opportunity to add on the hidden pantry, cold storage, and secret wash room. It gave her the chance to get creative, and make the little corner at the edge of the woods her own.

Digging a small lap writing desk from a crate, she smiled a little, and dusted off the top. She had gotten rid of so much stuff. It was good stuff, and useful, but it made her realize just how much more of the past thousand years she had left. More wide awake than ever, she laid out on the mattress that still lacked it’s frame, and set up her inkwell.

So much to do, so little time.

~ ~ ~

Master Thomin,

Greetings!

It was good to see you at the Burns wedding. Frank told me about the early harvest you will be taking south, and I have need to ask a favor. At the port there will be Voronwen, along with a friend’s steed by the name of Kvigr. Ask for them under my name, and take them with you to Vrax in Tharbad. Understand that I expect them to be well looked after, and kept in shape in preparation for travel.

Give Beatrice my greetings when you see her, and may the road be kind to you.

Na lu e-govaned vin,

Eruviel

~ ~ ~

Moridac,

It has been several turns since I last heard from you and the brothers. Sorkha has not written of any recent dances with the captains of the hills, but she did mention that their numbers have increased substantially since my visit last year. While I am bound to my company, please write to update me on new movements, and if any need arises.

The Hunter guide your spears, and may the sun soon shine upon your lands.

Respectfully,

Artis

~ ~ ~

To the Steward of Annúngilon,

Dear sir,

I was glad to hear of the year’s bounty, and the success on renovating the northern wing. Even more so, I congratulate you on the newest addition to your family. I hope future months grant me the time to visit, and pay my respects in person.

With this letter are the renewed contracts you asked for, and a few new ones I picked up along the way. If you would be so kind, I was wondering if you could find the time to send the third crate from Milloth’s storage to my new address.

Give Maeria my greetings, and kiss the twins for me as well.

The Valar keep you, and may peace ever fill your days.

Eruraviel Artistuion

~ ~ ~

Ildric,

Thomin has informed me of the company’s schedule. Seeing as he will be making his way to you, I have asked that he bring my steed, and that of a friend’s to you. I will be needing to pick them up from you in about a month and a half, and will update you when the time approaches as to the days I and my companion will be arriving. Keep a swift skiff at the camp on the Greyflood for us, and till we arrive please care for our horses with the mind that we will be riding hard east from Tharbad.

Yes, you will be compensated for your troubles, and yes, I am fully aware that a tongue-lashing will be awaiting me. Give the lads my greeting.

Till then,

Ravi

Anecdotes: Going Soft

Sweeping out a back door nearest the gardens, Feira dodged one of the older women who prowled about in hopes of snagging someone to aid her with laundry.

“Do you have it?” called a newer maid who smoothed back her hair as she scurried over.

Feira lifted the gilded tray decorated with a fine set of china. “Here. The guests are in the inner — Wait!” she called, stopping the new girl before she could take off with the tray. “With guests near, always gently take. Never snatch.”

The girl nodded, her darting eyes betraying the relative emptiness behind them.

“Listen closely,” Feira instructed with a kind tone. “The grandmother gets grumpy, so serve her first. This cup. She is very picky. And don’t forget, like I told you before. Hand the daughter her tea with the handle facing left.”

The new girl nodded, smiling gratefully. “I’ll remember. Thank you, Feira!” she called as she hurried away.

Sighing, Feira frowned down at the vases in her other arm. She’s going to break every one of those cup — Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted as a voice sounded behind her. Stopping in her tracks, color blossomed on her cheeks as her heart lept into a sprint. For months she had wondered how this moment would happen; if she’d be angry or hurt, but the small hope she’d carried burst like an emerging sun she could not hold back.

“Heya, Blondie.”

~ ~ ~

The soft thud of the closing door echoed in her ears. She did not move. She wasn’t sure if she could. The small house filled with crates and half constructed furniture suddenly felt like a void.

A drop of perspiration slid down the side of the glass to rest on her hand. His glass. Looking down she stared at her hand and his glass. Electricity shot up and down her arm from where their fingers had barely touched, and she took a gasping breath as if suddenly remembering to breathe.

Quickly putting the water glasses into the washbasin, she threw herself into emptying her belongings into their new home. Anything to tell herself it was nothing. That that look was nothing. Because every fiber of her wanted it to be something, and if she allowed herself to sit still she feared she would happily let herself drown in that simple, innocuous moment.

~ ~ ~

Dawn had just begun to creep over the horizon as Jade strolled up the lane to her cottage. Stacks of new lumber for her floor sat to one side of the yard. Having left her last customer, the young woman didn’t mind the little sleep she’d get before a long day of ripping up floorboards. Smiling as she yawned, she unlocked the front door and slipped inside.

It was perfect: her plain little home decorated with miss-matched furniture. Not a single hint of sweat, or leather, or ale could be smelled within the small, sacred walls. Only waterlilies from the little pond, and aromatic teas from Dorsett filled the cool air.

Stripping off her clothes, she dropped onto the mediocre mattress and curled up in the massive quilt sent by Wynthryth for her birthday. There were no snores, nor unwashed bodies. Just blissful darkness and silence. The difference from any other day was that this time she slept to one side of the bed, hoping that memories of the tall Rohir, and the gravedigger would drown out the faint tug she felt to go back to the dark little manor in the next village.

~ ~ ~

“You are dismissed, Gruin.”

“But, Sir, it wasn’t his –“

Pellion’s dark gaze darted over to the young man, silencing any further protest.

Saluting, Gruin gave the lad next to him an apologetic look before turning and exiting the office.

“Do you have anything to add, Cole?”

The farm boy, probably no older than seventeen, took in a small, nervous breath. “We just wanted to listen to a lecture, Sir. No harm was meant by it.”

Pellion did not move, nor did he blink. “Did you sign up to be a healer?”

“No, Sir, but we –“

“And did you go in your own free time?”

No, Sir. But there are no classes when –“

That,” said Pellion, his voice lowering dangerously, “is not my concern. You are here because there is a war, and because you volunteered to fight for your country.”

Cole swallowed, and looked down to his feet.

Had it been any of the other lads, Pellion might have ran them through the ringer, but not this one. That wouldn’t make him strong and useful. The boy had been through enough.

“Now . . . .”

Cole snapped to attention, grey eyes fixed ahead. “Sir.”

“What you do on your own time is not my business unless it interferes with you being a soldier under my command.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Now, go outside, pick up a sword, or whatever you think you may be best at, and practice without killing one of the others.”

Coles’s mouth tightened, but he just nodded curtly. “Yes, Sir.”

“You’re dismissed.”

Pivoting, the boy exited the room, frustration and confusion left in his wake.

Allowing himself to relax for a moment, Pellion leaned back in his chair and scrubbed his hands over his face. “Damned boys will make me go soft.”

Innocent Heart: Steps

One step in, and her whole body felt cold. Two steps in, and her chest seiezed with panic. 

One more step. One more step.

Feira was certain that she was going to be sick. She never had issue with passageways or narrow streets, but it was the dark, covered alleys that she avoided like a plauge. It was the nicest alley in a good area of town, but with each step she forced herself to take the harder it became to breathe.

You have to. You have to. Halfway there.

The scar on her back burned. She could hear the muffled screams, and mocking laughter. The walls seemed to close in around her, and Feira clenched her apron in her fists.

Emeleth . . . Valar, just a few more steps. 

Her world began to spin, and she was on the brink of passing out when suddenly full daylight hit her. Gasping for air Feira slumped against the side of the building. Seconds passed, and she sunk down to sit on a crate before her knees gave out. 

Torrin had said she’d have to face it eventually. He probably intended to be with her, but Feira would not wait any longer. Not with the knowledge that such a simple place could cripple her. It wasn’t much, but it was a step forward, and one that made her feel different somehow. Terrifying, but a good different.

Hot tears poured from her eyes, and she let out a short, triumphant laugh.

“I did it! I actually did it!”